It seems such a little thing, really. A thing that millions of parents across the country experience all the time, yet something every parent of a child on the spectrum prays for, and fears will never come.
An actual conversation with your own child.
I've been guilty of taking this for granted myself. Many a night at the dinner table, my eyes glazed over and I thought FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, big C, could you PLEASE STOP YOUR LIPS FROM MOVING FOR FIVE SECONDS?
At three years old, he offered his opinion on everything from the moon in the sky being crazy because it was out IN THE MORNING, Mommy, to broccoli being "so gisgusting." If you'd asked me then, I probably would have told you I'd give my right arm for a quiet, introspective child. A child that would speak when spoken to, who didn't jabber incessantly like a magpie on crack. A child who would, on occasion, let his mother escape to the bathroom in peace.
Fast forward a bit, and I'm staring at little C at the same age, agonizing over the realization that he may never have the tools in his toolbox to really talk to me. I would have given BOTH arms if someone would just tell me that eventually, I would be able to know that if he were bullied, or hurt, or--oh, hell--wanted his mom to just stop hovering already, he would have the words to let me know.
We've played the game for a while now. I pick him up at the end of his day, and we chat during the long (LONG) commute home. "How was your day, baby? Did you have a good day?" I ask. "YES!" he chirps in response. Always the same tone, same inflection, and while my mother's heart hopes that one day he will be able to truly answer that question, I know that, for now, his answer is a script. Knowing the expected answer, he provides it. So much of his time now is spent learning all the things he's had to catch up on, he tends to think of things in terms of "right" and "wrong" answers - the concept of objective opinions is still hazy to him.
There's so much I want to ask him on these car rides, and I have miles to think about it. What did he do today? What was his favorite part? Who is his best friend? What's his favorite color? But his talking points, few and far between on that long drive, typically consist of "Super Why!" and pointing out random letters and words outside his window. Some days the puzzled silence that greets my questioning is just too painful, and I retreat to the radio.
And we try again the next day.
But last night, my friend, we had a breakthrough. And I almost missed it.
We've been struggling with pooping on the potty (Editor's note: Apparently I've become one of those people who work their child's poop into casual conversation. I'm surprisingly fine with that), and have been following up success with the same reward, every time. Piece by piece, we put together his special Super Why puzzle, just the two of us. He is dizzy with excitement, putting each piece in place using his own method, alternating between gleeful happy dance and fierce concentration. I humor him by snapping the occasional piece together, content to sit and watch his mind work. This glance into his thoughts is precious to me - he works the puzzle unlike anyone else I know, and it makes my heart happy.
When he is done, his smile starts in his eyes, then spreads to his mouth until his grin seems bigger than his face, and his whole body wiggles in happiness. He is looking at me, willing me to share in his joy. That damned skill set and that puzzle might as well be the climbing of Mount Everest, for all the pride that fills my heart in that moment, and I tell him so. "I'm so proud of you, baby," I say.
Later that night, as bedtime is dragging its feet again, he crawls up next to me on our bed. His small body snuggles in against mine as sleep wages war on the tired eyes that seem determined to stay open, and his head settles comfortably on my shoulder.
It comes out of nowhere, and steals my breath. Just three short little sentences.
"Poo poo potty. Super Why puzzle. Mommy so proud."
I am just drowsy enough that at first, it doesn't register. When it does, I stare at him in shock. My baby has just recounted a series of events for me. An event that occurred some time before and was separated by several other subject changes. He was excited about his success, wanted to let me know, and did.
My throat tight, I fought to keep my voice even as I replied, "Yes, baby. Mommy's so proud."